Phillies sign Castillo as possible fill-in for Utley
Second baseman, released by Mets, given Minor League deal
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Luis Castillo has just nine games to prove to the Phillies he can play.
If he cannot play, they will release him and pay him nothing.
Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Castillo, whom Philadelphia signed to a Minor League contract Monday, will have to earn a spot on the 25-man roster. The Phillies are looking for help at second base because Chase Utley could miss months of the 2011 season because of patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation in his right knee.
"It's kind of a low-risk situation for us," Amaro said. "If he can help us, it would be great. If he can't, then we'll probably go with what we've got here in camp."
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The Mets released Castillo on Friday. He cleared waivers Sunday afternoon and the Phillies reached an agreement with him Sunday night. Amaro said if Castillo does not make the Opening Day roster, he will be released. Amaro also said they will pay the veteran infielder nothing if he is released, meaning there is no financial risk bringing him into camp.
If Castillo makes the Opening Day roster, the Phillies will be responsible for $414,000 of his $6 million salary.
The Mets will pay the rest.
Castillo, 35, hit .286 (8-for-28) with two RBIs in 11 games this spring. He committed an error and made other miscues in the field. Mets manager Terry Collins also called him into his office for what he considered an attitude problem.
Castillo, who had not yet reported to the Phillies as of Tuesday morning, hit just .235 with a .337 on-base percentage and a .267 slugging percentage in 86 games last season, although he hit .302 with a .387 on-base percentage in 2009. He has had trouble staying healthy and had fallen out of favor among Mets fans for memorably dropping a popup in a 2009 series against the Yankees, costing the Mets a victory.
"All of our indications from the people that we've talked to are very positive about the guy," Amaro said. "He's a good guy. We'll find out more about him as he's here. That's one of the reasons why we're bringing him up. We'll get to know him a little bit."
Scouts who have seen Castillo play in the past year think he has lost speed and quickness, which essentially is his game.
The Phils will get a chance to see if those views are accurate.
"I think it's best to get our guys' eyes on him," Amaro said. "Get him into a camp, get a chance to get familiar with him and know him as a person. Yeah, there are some questions about his range. We'll find out.
"He's a veteran guy. He's had some success obviously in the past. He's probably not the same player he was several years ago, but he takes pitches. He can do some things on the bases. He can extend the inning for you offensively. He's always been a good defender. But there are some questions about his range and how he's moving."
Clearly, the Phillies are very concerned about Utley's health. Utley said Sunday he is "moving in the right direction." Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said Sunday, "He's getting a little better. It's not coming real fast, but he's showing -- according to the doctors and trainers -- he's starting to get better. It seems like it's going to take a while, though."
Amaro said Utley's condition has not changed.
"Status quo," he said. "We are [concerned]. We have been concerned. We haven't made any bones about that."
That is why the Phils pursued Castillo, although there are five infielders in camp who have had some success this spring. Wilson Valdez, who until Monday had been the heavy favorite to be the Opening Day second baseman, has hit .439 (18-for-41) with three doubles, one home run and six RBIs.
"It's kind of open," Amaro said of the starting job at second base.
There are also the three non-roster invitees in camp. Josh Barfield has hit .344 (11-for-32) with three doubles, one triple and three RBIs. Pete Orr has hit .333 (12-for-36) with three doubles, three triples and two RBIs. Delwyn Young has hit .292 (14-for-48) with two doubles, one home run and three RBIs, although Young is more of an outfielder than a second baseman.
Rule 5 Draft pick Michael Martinez has hit .292 (14-for-48) with three doubles, two home runs and six RBIs.
"[Castillo's] kind of in the same boat as the non-roster invitees," Amaro said. "He's just a bigger name. The guys have all played pretty well, but anytime you can bring in a guy that can be a low-risk guy and someone that has some track record, it at least gives us a little bit of depth and gives us a chance to make a decision."
Is nine games enough time to know if Castillo is better than the rest?
"Some guys I can look at for two minutes," Manuel said.
The clock is ticking.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.